Published: Sunday, April 1, 2007
Planters hope chestnut forests take hold
It is estimated that Ohio has about 35,000 acres of abandoned strip mine sites.
DRESDEN, Ohio (AP) Foreign disease took a toll on Ohio's chestnut trees more than 70 years ago, wiping out whole forests and driving the species to near-extinction in the state.
Now, by converting an old strip mine site into a seedling forest, a group of Ohio University students and researches hopes a new, fungus-resistant chestnut tree can thrive in Ohio once more.
The group planned to spend Saturday sowing about 1,200 seedlings across three acres of the Tri-Valley Wildlife area in eastern Ohio.
An Asian fungal disease in the 1930s swept through the state's population of American chestnut trees, once valued for their timber, as a source of food for woodland animals and as a cash crop for farmers. Much of the chestnut population in the eastern United States, covering 200 million acres from Maine to Florida, was affected.
The new plants will have an advantage over previous generations: They are hybrids selectively bred by scientists to resist to the fungus. The American chestnut was crossed with the related Chinese chestnut, then slowly crossbred back so that it's more like the original American tree, but has the Asian species' resistance to the disease.
Saturday's effort is the largest single-day American chestnut planting on public land in the state, and the second large-scale effort to bring the tree back in Ohio, said Carolyn Keiffer, vice president of the Ohio Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation and a professor at Miami University. In 2006, another strip mine site was planted with 2,400 of the trees.
If the hybrid trees take hold at the strip mine, it could lead to more widespread attempts to cultivate forests at dormant sites. The Division of Mineral Resources Management estimates Ohio has about 35,000 acres of abandoned strip mine sites, natural resource administrator John Husted said.
The tree is an obvious selection for the abandoned mine sites because there is evidence they grow better there than other kinds of trees, which struggle because there is often little or no topsoil.
The forest planting in Muskingum County is being paid for by a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior's Office of Surface Mines. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Miami University are also working on the project, which began last week when heavy equipment was used to plow the site.
Officials at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources also are hoping to create a nursery at Mohican State Forest to cultivate more pure American chestnut trees, using surviving trees found growing wild in 2005.
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